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Incineration of radioactive waste begins at Fukushima nuclear plant

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has begun incinerating radioactively contaminated clothing and other waste on the grounds of the disaster-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in an effort to reduce the volume of waste.

A three-story incineration facility has been built on the north side of the plant grounds. Every day around 7,000 people work at the Fukushima plant, creating a massive amount of waste in the form of used radiation suits, gloves and boots. Pre-disaster incineration equipment was destroyed by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, which led to the construction of the new facility.

As of the end of last year some 70,000 metric tons of this kind of waste was being held in storage containers. TEPCO estimates that by the year 2028, 358,000 tons of such waste will have been produced, but claims it can reduce the volume of the waste to as little as about one-fiftieth of its original size by incinerating it.

Radioactive materials contained in the smoke from the incinerator will be removed by filters on the exhaust pipes. The resulting ash will be sealed in specialized barrels, and TEPCO says there will be little danger from radioactive exposure.

However, in addition to the aforementioned waste there were, as of July last year, around 83,000 tons of lumber from trees cut down to make way for tanks storing contaminated water and 155,000 tons of other waste such as power plant debris from the hydrogen explosions that occurred there. These additional kinds of waste are expected to grow to 695,000 tons by 2028, and will not be processed at the incineration facility.

While TEPCO plans to construct facilities to burn this lumber and to break down debris in the future, these are not expected to all be operational until around fiscal 2020.

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